Nick Saban and Bob Stoops.
There may not be two more recognized, respected and revered college football coaches in the nation, their last names attached to two of the most dominating programs of the Bowl Championship Series era.
Reputation alone, though, will not win the AllState Sugar Bowl. It takes a village to prepare for Thursday’s matchup at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, starting with the coordinators.
Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, the younger brother of the head coach, against the Tide’s offensive chief, Doug Nussmeier, a former Saints backup quarterback.
Alabama defensive guru Kirby Smart double-teamed against Oklahoma’s offense, coached by Josh Heupel and Jay Norvell.
Far from household football names, Saban of two-time defending national champion Alabama and Bob Stoops of 2000 National champion Oklahoma use their five assistant coaches to make the right in-game calls, placing their playmakers in good situations to make end-game adjustments that minimize risk.
“So whether it’s pressure or not in this game, it’s pressure in every game,” Smart said during this week’s Sugar Bowl press conference at the Marriott Convention Center. “So for us, playing the (Southeastern Conference), it’s like that week in, week out. So we’ve come to anticipate that.”
So far, it’s worked.
Alabama (11-1) was one bad special teams away from playing for its fifth national championship of the modern era under Saban.
Oklahoma’s journey to the Big Easy hasn’t been as smooth, much like the bumpy downtown streets. But the Sooners (10-2) are here, nonetheless, with Heupel and Norvell trying to figure out this week if he wants to start junior Blake Bell or redshirt freshman Trevor Knight. The goal was not to have dual quarterbacks, but that’s what has occurred.
“At the beginning of the year, you have a competition; you feel like one of those guys is going to step ahead and become the guy,” Heupel said. “We thought we had the guy in Trevor. Trevor gets dinged, injured (Sept. 7 against West Virginia). Blake comes in, plays well. He gets dinged up (Nov. 16 against Iowa State). Trevor goes in and continues to complete and plays well.”
Which leads to no clear answer. Yet one factor is clear, according to the co-coordinators.
“More times we agree than disagree, to start off,” said Heupel, who coaches from the press box, while Norvell is on the sideline.
Don’t expect them to stay under the head coaching radar for long.
Mike Stoops was fired after his head coaching stint at Arizona (2004-11) before returning to Norman for his second stint with the Sooners. Nussmeier recently interviewed from the vacant head coaching job at Washington.
“I would like to be a head coach some day in the right situation,” Nussmeier said. “That was an opportunity for our family, and coach Saban fully supported it.”
Stoops’ gameday challenge is to transform his Sooner defense, built to stop the spread in the Big 12, to combat Alabama’s massive, ground-and-pound offense.
“So we’re had to adjust some personnel for this game and tried to get bigger people in position to defend the things we’re going to see with Alabama.”
That’s just what Saban and Bob Stoops expect.